Hollywood Director Kathryn Bigelow Unveils Achingly Sad PSA About Elephant Poaching

Why she made this animated short instead of a film

The ivory trade isn't just killing elephants. Humans are the victims, too, because poaching helps to fund terrorist organizations like al-Shabaab and Boko Haram.

That's the message of Last Days, a three-minute film by Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow, best known for the features Zero Dark Thirty and Hurt Locker. Produced in conjunction with WildAid and Annapurna Pictures, Last Days ranks among the year's most provocative PSAs. Its atmosphere is heartbreaking, and there's some disturbing imagery.

Bigelow uses simple, cut-out-style animation to tell a complex story in reverse chronological order. We start at the end of the sordid tale, in an exotic boutique that sells trinkets. A question flashes on screen: "When you buy something made of ivory, where does the money go?" The ivory is traced back to its source—slaughtered African elephants—in painstaking detail. At one point, dark, indistinct figures pack tusks into shipping crates stamped with the word "Coffee" on their sides. These crates resemble coffins.

"To make a feature film about such a topic would likely take years, during which more elephants would die," says Bigelow. "So instead, I approached a team of fellow filmmakers and we made Last Days as an animated piece, which we thought would give it a broader audience."

In a jarring sequence, animation gives way to security-camera footage from the 2013 Westgate Mall massacre in Nairobi, Kenya. We're told that al-Shabaab, which claimed responsibility for the attack, makes $600,000 a month from illegal ivory. Later, we see the mutilated bodies of elephants, bloody tusks freshly hacked from their faces. Though animated, this segment stands as a shocking testament to senseless slaughter.

"An elephant disappears every 15 minutes," said Bigelow, and they could be extinct in the wild in little more than a decade. "It is our hope that this film helps to bring an activist into existence at least that often." There's also a website to visit for more information.

Tying the murder of elephants to terrorism and human suffering is a powerful way to build empathy. This approach clearly illustrates cause and effect, and suggests all living things share a deep connection. By butchering another species, or allowing such horrors to take place, we ultimately brutalize ourselves. Each rifle blast and machete stroke makes us less human.